Multimedia Martian

The story of The Martian is so unique in the fact that it lends itself to a variety of different story telling media that offer new engagements for the audience in different ways. Initially conceived by Andy Weir in some rough blog fiction posts, the story of a death defying ingenuitive astronaut quickly caught the interest of its audience and was soon self-published by Weir in 2011. It wasn’t long before the film rights of this unique story were bought by Twentieth Century Fox who hired Drew Goddard to adapt the novel into the popular movie. One year later, Ridley Scott was in the works of directing the adaptation starring Matt Damon as the Mark Watney that we have come to know and love.  After publishers noticed the success of the story, Crown Publishing purchased the rights and re-published the novel in 2014. Riding the momentum of success of this film, app designers released a game featuring the story of The Martian called The Martian: Bring Him Home. To take the immersion to another level, a VR game was released that allowed users to explore Mars for themselves and put themselves in Watney’s shoes.

Each of these different media feature different affordances and constraints (as Ritchie explains) that shed new light on The Martian. The novel features impeccable detail that explain the science behind Mark Watney’s crazy ideas. I personally liked being able fact check the science and compare it to what I was currently learning in my classes. With the novel, readers can go at their own pace in experiencing the story instead of having to be dragged along by a fast paced movie. If I read dialogue too fast and didn’t understand why Mark had made a certain decision, it was nice to be able to simply flip back a few pages and see what I missed. With print, a lot of the imagery of scenes and dialogue can be left up to the reader’s interpretation which allow the readers to use their imagination to make the story a creative experience. However, constraints do exist for the print media. Printed codex is limited in the fact that it cannot include videos or audio. While it can include diagrams and pictures, it lacks the luxury of being able to express itself in audible media. The Blog Fiction posts were an interesting source that provided easy access to non-linearity and also offered supplemental images in the forms of maps and diagrams that aided the telling of the story. Another limitation of print is that while movies can show an entire landscape in a few seconds of a shot, a writer of a book must spend paragraphs explaining it being careful to not bog the reader down with a vast expanse of words.

That’s where I believe The Martian movie had one of its greatest strengths. It depicted the awe-inspiring barren environment of Mars in such a captivating way that made it feel tangible. The opening scene of the movie captured the magnificence of the red planet in a way that the book never really did. The few descriptions of the Martian landscape were clouded by Watney’s endless curses to it. By coalescing music, sound effects, light intensities and camera angles to emphasize drama, the movie kept us on the edge of our seats as we followed him in his journey to survive on and finally escape Mars. The same was true for the Ares III Live YouTube channel. Viewers were able to witness a new perspective of The Martian in the form of deleted movie scenes. It offered more to the story by featuring short, readily accessible clips that still possessed all of the advantages of modern film editing. However brilliant these clips and the movie were, they both still had constraints that other media of the story were able to include. While the movie was a captivating experience, it was also very non-interactive as it offered no control to the audience in the telling of the story. All of the scenes were flashed upon the screen to be passively absorbed by the audience. The app picked up where the movie was lacking.

In The Martian: Bring Him Home app, users were able to see the story of The Martian from a different perspective; from NASA’s mission control. Players served as Watney’s sole source of communication to earth and was therefore able to make decisions that saved Watney. Though players were given a choice regarding some major decisions, most of the other decisions were too similar to carry the game in a direction that differed than the plot of the movie and book. If a choice was chosen that strayed too much, Watney would die and the game would rewind to allow the player to make the correct choice that was often similar to whatever happened in the original book. As we discussed in class, it offered the “illusion of control”. We thought we were making the decisions to keep Watney alive but in reality we were just following the plot of the novel. This level of interactivity actually allowed users to experience the plot of the story in a more engaging way.

While the game offered a new perspective on the story of The Martian, the VR game allowed users to feel like they were literally in Watney’s shoes as they got to explore the terrain of Mars firsthand. Users were able to walk around in the MAV and even drive the rover. This was limited in telling the story of the Martian because the linearity was enforced by a first-person storyline. Users were not able to know how things were going at NASA or even on the Hermes. Users were stranded like Watney.

The Martian was a dynamic story that was told in many different forms of media. All of these forms had different affordances and constraints that were unique to each media and brought new perspectives to the story that we have come to marvel.

-Tiffany Ramcharan


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